Abuse or neglect in early life activates some genes that can have implications on the child's long-term development. (posed by model)

A foster mother forced a girl to kneel in scalding water and subjected her to racist abuse, a court has heard. Neighbours reported shocking accounts of cruelty by the foster mother who referred to the young Zimbabwean girl as a 'dirty little b****' and used the 'N' word.

The youngster, who cannot be named, had been born in Luton, Bedfordshire. She had lived with the couple who were British and white for about a decade under an 'informal fostering arrangement'. Neighbours, who first contacted the police about the mistreatment suffered by the child, recounted an incident they witnessed in the garden of the family's Lancashire home in the summer of 2010.

Judge Singleton explained how the neighbours said they noticed the girl, now 12, "standing unnaturally still in full sunshine". She had "plainly wet herself" and was subjected to a tirade of abuse by the foster mother who ordered her to remove her clothes. The foster mother then forced the girl to clean herself by kneeling in scalding water after she soiled herself.

The judge added: "She called her, so far as (that neighbour) could hear, a "dirty little b****" and said that (the girl) would have to wear that dress "tomorrow". The girl was then left outside naked until her foster mother shouted at her to come in. The judge described how the child was treated with "cold contempt" by her foster mother and the woman's partner.

"On another occasion, (that neighbour) had observed (the girl) picking up faeces in the garden which she, perhaps not unreasonably, thought were dog faeces. She also observed (the girl) surrounded by the Rottweilers and had the impression that she flinched. Overall, she was disturbed by how cold (the foster mother) was to the child."

Judge Singleton said both foster parents "indignantly" denied the allegations, had "failed to be truthful" and had "told deliberate lies from time to time". She said the foster mother had given "frankly incredible" accounts of the girl "pouring or splashing boiling water over herself".

"On balance ... and it is very hard to contemplate, I do consider that those scalding injuries were deliberately inflicted. They were probably linked with somebody's disgust and vituperation over the soiling accidents and were likely to be linked with an abusive method of cleaning her up or forcing her to clean herself up."

Judge Singleton told Blackpool Family Court the girl had been left physically scarred by her foster parents, who kept animals including three Rottweilers, at least one cat and a 'large' pig. She said the foster mother had demonstrated more warmth for the animals than the girl when giving evidence at the court hearing.

Judge Singleton also concluded the girl had been bitten by the couple's three Rottweiler dogs. "I do not think it likely that the three Rottweilers were deliberately set upon her to attack her, but I do think it likely that she was frightened of the dogs, that in their presence she was treated, by (the foster mother) particularly, to being shouted at and to contemptuous treatment that might well cause a dog from time to time to nip her and bite her because that is what the dogs would perceive (the foster mother) or (the foster father) to be doing to her."

The judge said the girl had lived with the couple for about a decade, but had been in the care of Lancashire council for the past two years after making complaints about her foster mother's 'cruelty and abuse' during sessions with a counsellor organised through a school after teachers also expressed their concerns for her well-being.

According to Sky News the foster parents were not named, and the ruling gave no indication as to whether they had been charged with criminal offences. The child is now in the care of Lancashire council.

REPORT ABUSE: Contact the NSPCC helpline and speak to a trained counsellor if you are worried about a child.